York News-Times [York NE]
November 5, 2021
By Melanie Wilkinson
A former priest in the York community is among 56 others who have been named as sexual predators after a three-year investigation by the Nebraska Attorney General’s office.
In all, the state has identified 258 documented victims of sexual abuse and misconduct by these named Catholic Church officials, according to an announcement made this week by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson.
The victims, who reported abuse dating back decades, include 97 from the Lincoln Diocese, 158 from the Omaha Diocese and three from the Grand Island Diocese.
But because of statute of limitation laws, Peterson’s office was unable to prosecute any of the abusers, he said during a press conference to release his office’s 180-page report on clergy abuse.
The former priest who once served in the York community, named in the report, is Monsignor Jerome Murray. Murray was ordained in 1949 and served in the diocese until 1999. He died in 2016. The report says he “abused numerous students in the 1960s and 1970s in York, Nebraska.”
The report is extremely graphic in nature. While the report is public, the YNT is refraining from publishing those details.
However, the report outlines a number of cases in which the attorney general’s office says there is documentation confirming Monsignor Murray sexually assaulted at least nine victims.
The first victim reported his abuse to the Nebraska Department of Justice in 2018. He said he was sexually abused by Murray in the mid-1960s when he was in his early teens.
The person identified as Victim #2 filed a lawsuit in 2003 against the diocese and Murray alleging repeated sexual and physical abuse when he was in grade school in the 1970s. This victim also said he witnessed Murray engage in sexually inappropriate activities “with a number of boys” with some of the incidents occurring in the rectory. The lawsuit was settled in October of 2004.
The third victim filed a lawsuit in 2003 against the diocese and Murray, saying he was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by Murray when he was in grade school, between 1973 and 1974. The report says Murray told the boy not to tell anyone about what had happened, “because it is between you, me and God.” This victim also claimed Murray sexually abused multiple other boys. Victim #3 settled his lawsuit in 2004.
The report says Victim #4 was a student and in a Boy Scout troop led by Murray. He also said many other boys were abused by Murray. He said he was abused in the early 1970s.
Victim #5 was an altar server in the early 1970s and he said he saw Murray engage in inappropriate acts with other boys as well. He said his abuse took place when he was 12 and 13 years old, and he alleges “Murray’s sexually inappropriate behavior with boys was public knowledge.”
The attorney general’s report says Victim #6 was abused by Murray in the early to mid-1970s and Murray “engaged in public nudity and sexually inappropriate activity with groups of boys. There was widespread gossip and knowledge in the community about Murray’s behavior.”
Victim #7 said he was sexually abused by Murray when he was 10-12 years of age. “He did not provide details of the sexual abuse. He said he witnessed Murray sexually abuse other boys in the sacristy of the church. He added that at times, the abuse would occur while Murray was wearing his priestly robes.” The report says this victim said the abuse took place in the mid-1970s.
The eighth victim says he was 11-12 years old, in that same timeframe. And the allegations match those of other victims.
The ninth victim was 10-11 years old, the report says, and he said the abuse included other boys and happened during camping trips. He said this abuse occurred in the early to mid-1970s.
The attorney general’s disposition says, “Many of the people mentioned in the file claimed there was public knowledge of Murray’s sexually aberrant behavior with students. It was alleged that members of the Catholic school board met with representatives of the diocese and demanded that Murray be removed from the school. Those attempts were said to have been met with resistance by the diocese, to the point where parents had to threaten disclosure to law enforcement in order to get Murray removed from the school.
“The file summary notes Murray was removed from the parish and the school in York in late December, 1974, but no details surrounding the removal are specified. There is very little information about his service in the diocese from 1975 until his retirement in 1999. His faculties were revoked and his public ministry was restricted from 2002-2005. None of the allegations against Murray were reported to law enforcement until 2018. He died in 2016.”
The attorney general calls the Murray case “particularly troubling.”
“The file indicates members of the school board became aware of Murray’s behavior and met with diocesan officials to have him removed from the school. The diocese was said to have resisted the attempt to remove Murray but relented when the parents threatened to report Murray to law enforcement. We determined Murray sexually abused at least nine victims. Most of the victims stated they observed Murray perform sexually abusive acts on other boys. Murray continued in the ministry until 1999. It appears the diocese’s goal was to conceal criminal behavior from the authorities,” the attorney general’s summary says.
“This extensive review has been a very difficult process,” Attorney General Peterson said. “The nature of the harm caused to these young, innocent victims is indescribable. The extent of physical and psychological harm caused by the perpetrators and the failure of the church to safeguard so many victims is gut-wrenching.”
Archbishop Geoge Lucas (Archdiocese of Omaha), Bishop James D. Conley (Diocese of Lincoln) and Bishop Joseph Hanefeldt (Diocese of Grand Island) issued a joint statement regarding the attorney general’s report. In it they said, “We acknowledge with sadness that so many innocent minors and young adults were harmed by Catholic clergy and other representatives of the Church. It is clear that the hurt is still felt, even if the abuse was perpetrated many years ago. We apologize to the victims and their families for the pain, betrayal and suffering that never should be experienced in the Church. This report also points out mistakes made in the way dioceses received, reported and responded to allegations of sexual abuse in the past. We have been committed in recent years to comprehensive measures to protect young people and vulnerable adults, preventing abuse, offering healing for past victims of abuse and fully cooperating with civil authorities in these matters. We have made our own public disclosures of offending clergy. Anyone who believes that a member of the clergy, church worker or church volunteer has engaged in inappropriate conduct with a minor should contact law enforcement and the Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Diocese when the conduct occurred.”